The 2018 NFL Draft is over and one of the better draft hauls belongs to the Chicago Bears. Let’s cut to the chase here for the Bears, as general manager Ryan Pace summed up his feelings on how this draft panned out for the Bears in his and coach Matt Nagy’s press conference once round 7 concluded, saying they ‘couldn’t be happier with how the draft unfolded’. Pace was beaming from ear to ear as he sat down ready to take questions from the Chicago area media.
Pace’s feeling towards this draft echo my own, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was pretty damn good. Days 1 and 2 in particular stood out, but overall Bears fans have to be happy with the end result following a strong free agency period.
Bears fans have to be loving this offseason.
— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) April 27, 2018
Now that the draft is over the fun part begins in projecting how each pick will fit into their teams as rookies. Who are the Week 1 starters? Who projects to be an effective role player and who is likely to be a depth guy who can contribute if called upon?
Week 1 Starter
Round 1, Pick 8: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
When the Buffalo Bills traded up to the number 7 spot which had belonged to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bears must have been ecstatic as just about everyone knew the Bills were coming up to pick a QB, meaning Smith would still be on the board at number 8. To have not only the best defensive prospect there waiting for them, but a player who also fills a need in the middle of the Bears defense, this was going to be the only pick the Bears make and what a great pick it was.
Smith will fit in immediately next to Danny Trevathan in the Bears’ base 3-4 scheme. Smith is a prototypical sideline to sideline linebacker who can cover underneath, support the run and has the speed to blitz the QB when required. Is there anything this kid can’t do? With Smith and Trevathan in the middle, this opens up more pass rush opportunities for OLB’s Leonard Floyd and newly acquired Aaron Lynch, who shouldn’t have to drop back into coverage with the likes of Smith and Trevathan in the middle.
Earlier on draft day defensive coordinator Vic Fangio hit a hole-in-one while out on the golf course. The Bears certainly appear to have hit a hole-in-one with this pick.
Round 2, Pick 39: James Daniels, C, Iowa
Another great pick here, again in a position of need, this time along the interior offensive line. Daniels is a player who was the best player at his position at this point in the draft. When the pick was announced my first thought was that Daniels, who is only 20 years old, would start at center in 2018 with 2017 starting center and former second round pick Cody Whitehair kicking back out to left guard. However, during the Bears press conference after day 2, general manager Ryan Pace announced that Daniels will be competing for the left guard spot, keeping Whitehair at center and Kyle Long returning to right guard. Pace has always preached versatility along the offensive line so this announcement perhaps wasn’t a huge surprise, whether you agree with it or not.
I do expect Daniels to start Week 1. He is big, athletic, has great short-area quickness and fits perfectly into the Bears zone blocking scheme. Playing alongside Whitehair and Long will only make him better, and quickly. He does move extremely well which will be key to the Bears running game this year. While he needs a little refinement in pass protection, he’ll become known as a solid starter by the end of his rookie year.
Round 2, Pick 51: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
As I woke up on Saturday morning and had a few hours before round 2 was due to start (Yes I am aware it started Friday night in Dallas, Texas but I live in Australia where we are almost a day ahead), I was beginning to think ‘wouldn’t it be great if the Bears picked Miller today’ until I remembered that there was surely no way they would take him as high as pick 39. Add into that the Bears not having a third round pick this year, which was given up in the trade up to number 2 last year to select Mitchell Trubisky, and selecting Miller seemed unlikely.
Round 2 starts and they select James Daniels at pick 39 (great pick, see above). Not long after that, the Bears trade their 2019 second round pick and pick 105 in the fourth round this year to the New England Patriots to pick at number 51. They and select Miller and my wish came true! Wishes do come true, who’d have thought?
Once again, another need filled despite the additions of Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency and the return of former first round pick Kevin White…I still have faith he’ll become good. I hope. But whether Miller is a week 1 starter or not was hard to project, but then again the Bears traded up to get him so he should figure in the offense early in 2018. Miller has good size and knows how to get open. From what I’ve seen on tape of Miller he has inconsistent hands. Can make spectacular catches one minute then drop easy balls the next.
He should become a great weapon in the passing game with his speed on deep routes and his RAC ability in the short passing game. He could very easily be WR3 on the Bears depth chart come Week 1, which should see him get some playing time early on in the season.
Round 4, Pick 115: Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
I was a little surprised by this pick, as I was certain the Bears would go CB here. Then again they did lose LB’s Willie Young, Christian Jones, Jerrell Freeman and Pernell McPhee this offseason so a need was addressed here. Iyiegbunwie ran a 4.60 40 yard dash at the combine and has the ideal size to play OLB and ILB, weighing in at 233lbs. He did play some ILB at Western Kentucky and figures to compete for a back-up role behind Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith and Nick Kwiatoski.
Having played both ILB and OLB in his college career would have no doubt attracted Bears GM Ryan Pace when evaluating Iyiegbunwie and I would expect him to contribute on special teams primarily to start his NFL career. He also totalled 117 tackles in 2017 at ILB so I would expect to see him listed as an ILB in his rookie year and could well see a role in some Dime and Nickel packages as the season progresses.
He does defend the pass well and has the click and close ability to cover a TE or RB coming out the backfield. Lets not forget that last year in the fourth round the Bears selected both Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson, both large and effective contributors in their rookie years so could we be saying the same of Iyiegbunwie this time next year?
Round 5, Pick 145: Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware
Perhaps another surprise pick here on day 3 for the Bears. Although GM Ryan Pace certainly likes his small school guys – previously drafting the likes of Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen – this was a bit of a shock. This screams depth pick to me, as Nichols will not unseat Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Jonathan Bullard and will likely compete with the likes of John Jenkins and Roy Robertson-Harris for a back-up spot.
He could see playing time coming into the defensive line rotation but he’ll need to impress quickly in training camp to improve his chances of seeing the field in 2018. While a decent athlete for the position his technique will need a lot of work and he likely only sees the field in 2018 as a fill-in for injuries.
There isn’t much expected of Nichols at this point so he could be a nice project for Vic Fangio to develop, especially his pass rushing skills. This likely means the chances of Nichols making an immediate impact in his rookie year being slim. But I’ll have faith in Pace and Fangio here and project Nichols to become a good depth player as the 2018 season progresses.
Round 6, Pick 181: Kylie Fitts, DE, Utah
Coming into this draft the Bears had a need for a pass rusher and they waited until round 6 to take a player who could help their pass rush in Kylie Fitts out of Utah. Unfortunately for Fitts injuries plagued his college career as he played only 22 games in 4 years.
He does have experience playing as a pass rushing OLB as well as at DE so he’s a versatile player, which GM Ryan Pace would have liked. Durability is a major concern for Fitts and he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy. With Fitts very likely occupying a backup role in his rookie year, this in fact could help him given his injury history. The talent and traits are there and he has good hand usage to disengage from blocks.
Again similar to Bilal Nichols in that he’ll be a nice project player for Vic Fangio to develop but if he can stay healthy he can contribute if called upon.
Round 7, Pick 224: Javon Wims, WR, Georgia
I just typed Javon ‘Wins’ above before correcting it, so is this a sign that the Bears got an absolute steal in the seventh round here? Probably not. While Wims does have good size – measuring 6’3’’ and 215lbs – he’ll land in Chicago as WR5 or WR6 on the Bears depth chart, a position they upgraded heavily in free agency along with their second round pick this year, Anthony Miller.
Wims will need to show and prove he can play special teams to have any chance of making the Bears 53 man roster. There is upside here but is he ready for a backup role in 2018? That remains to be seen but I expect him to land on the practice squad and develop there.
Overall this was a great draft for the Bears. Needs were addressed while also drafting great prospects at those positions of need. Smith and Daniels will compete and win starting jobs in training camp and Anthony Miller I can see as being WR3 on the Bears depth chart come Week 1. The Bears are building effectively around Mitchell Trubisky while bringing in players on defense who will compete. The arrow is well and truly pointing up in Chi-Town.
Be sure to pick up your copy of the 2018 ITP Draft Guide by visiting www.itpdraftguide.com!